Practically every conversation pertaining to nutrition, diet or weight loss is in some way or another linked to counting calories. Still, few people truly understand what exactly calories are and, moreover, why they’re even counting them. Calories are critical for maintaining the metabolic rate (metabolism), which is the amount of calories the body uses to fuel all vital functions (breathing, blood pressure and brain activity). Given this fact, to avoid unnecessary health problems, follow these simple dos and don’ts if you’re intent on counting calories.
DO: Determine Your Daily Calorie Needs
The minimum amount of calories needed to sustain vital functions at the metabolic rate is somewhere around 1,200 and 1,500 calories each day. However, your daily calorie needs are based on numerous factors including your age, gender, stature, weight and leanness (percentage of muscle relative to fat). Your calorie needs also depend on how physically active you are as well as the types of activity in which you regularly engage. For example, people who regularly lift weights require more calories than people who don’t, as muscle is more metabolically active. You can get a good estimate of your daily calories needs using a calculator.
DO: Incorporate Good Nutrition Into Your Diet
While calorie control is important for weight loss and long-term weight management, it’s more important to prioritize good nutrition over general calorie counting in order to optimize your weight loss efforts. When all is said and done, a diet emphasizing sensible portions of high-quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein will likely negate the need for calorie counting by boosting the body’s natural fat burning mechanisms. Incorporating good nutrition also helps to reduce cravings, curb hunger, and control appetite making it easy to eat less and lose weight.
DON’T: Overestimate Your Calories Burned
The advent of fitness-tracking devices makes it easier to estimate your calorie burns for different types of physical activity. However, due to the adaptive nature of metabolism, such devices aren’t the most accurate. This is an important point to understand, as the more you engage in any given type of activity, the fewer calories your body actually burns performing it .As such, if you’ve been counting 200-300 daily calories burned with walking for the past three months this is likely an overestimate due to your body’s general familiarization with this activity. When counting calories, a good rule of thumb is to underestimate the amount of calories you burn while overestimating the amount you consume.
DON’T: Obsess Over Counting Calories
When it comes to healthy eating in general, a common misconception is that calorie control alone is key. Oftentimes, this leads people to focus solely on counting calories. While creating calorie deficits by calorie counting will almost always lead to short-term weight loss, obsessing over calories can cause people to lose sight of good nutrition, thereby, inadvertently starving themselves of health promoting nutrients. The most effective weight loss strategy involves adopting a healthy, balanced diet emphasizing good nutrition with calorie deficits created by way of moderate restriction (250-500 less calories per day) and regular physical activity.
If you’re trying to lose weight, there’s no doubt that keeping tabs on your daily calorie intake is an absolute must. However, this is only half the battle. Following these simple dos and don’ts will make it much easier to sustain long-term weight loss while also promoting overall good health.